It’s been five days since the healer decided that I need to show results. I’ve been trying to find something to show him. I’ve run the reports over and over again. I’ve tried to experiment with different combinations of my formula. Nothing is happening. I still don’t know what’s killing the crops. I’ve spent every waking moment looking at results from the crops, researching this area. As we drive to see the healer, I can’t talk about anything besides the things I have been reading about.

“I just found a case from two years ago in Paulpietersburg, where something similar to here was happening. There was an unidentified animal that had killed two people and injured another three. The police knew it was some kind of animal that had done it but had no idea what type. It could have been a wild dog or a stray dog. They had to call a sangoma in to try find out what was causing the deaths.”

“Did they find out?” he asks as we park in front of the healer’s home.

I sigh, “The article doesn’t say.”

Bambatha insisted that I come to see the healer. He is convinced that this old man can help me see what I have been missing. I am not so convinced.

I enter the darkened rondavel by myself. The healer is waiting for me.

“You don’t believe,” he says.

It wasn’t a question but I admit to him anyway that I don’t believe.

“You are not as different from me as you think. You want answers, I have answers.”

“Will you help me?” I ask.

He nods his head and starts to move around the rondavel, explaining.

The healer explains the process. Every morning, he and the initiates go into the forest to collect the herbs he uses in his healing and consultations. Before they leave, they burn impepho and say their clan praises, then they ask permission from the ancestors to go into the forest. Once collected, the initiates sort and wash the herbs, they are catalogued, packaged and labelled according to their uses. Medicines that can cause damage to other medicines are kept separately from the rest. Those that are put in teas or food are also placed separately.

All of this the healer explains quietly as he collects four bottles off his shelves. Each bottle looks like it contains a different mixture and he holds them out to me.

“What are these for?” I ask him.

“Protection, keeping away bad things … you will see if you can use them sometime. They are always useful to have,” he replies.

I think he is done and thank him, putting the bottles in my jacket pockets, but as I turn to leave, he stops me.

“I have one more thing for you,” he says, pulling a small plastic container from the shelf and placing it in my hand. “Isipho: the dream is a gift. Drink this before you sleep.”


“You will show yourself what you are looking for,” he says. “The dream is a gift.”

I keep second-guessing myself, thinking I’ll drink it. And then I change my mind and then think I should drink it again. In the end, I just down the whole thing in one gulp. I lay my head down and close my eyes.

When I open them, I am by the river. I know I must be dreaming now. In my dream, the beast is drinking water from the river. I take a step forward and it stops, stiffens and its head snaps backwards to look at me. Its eyes shine white in the pale moonlight. And then it smiles. All its teeth glow blue like my crops and as it turns back to drink, the teeth are reflected in the water. I don’t know what it means but I hear the name ‘Chasa’ in my head. I do not know who says his name. It comes to me from the wind.

“Chasa,” I say. “Chasa?”

This time the beast turns its head slowly towards me. It crawls on its stomach away from the river and starts to stalk me. I turn to run but as soon as I put one foot in front of another, I feel a terrible ripping at the base of the back of my neck and suddenly, I’m awake.

Dripping in sweat, I jump out of bed. I throw on my jacket and run out to Bambatha’s rondavel. I bang on the door with both of my balled fists. When Bambatha comes to the door, he is rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

“I know what’s happening to the crops. I know what’s happening to the people too; why some people are getting sick and others are getting hurt. We have to go to the river – right now!”


Tell us what you think: What will Nomfundo and Bambatha find at the river?